“In my work, I investigate how power, politics, and control are exercised through urban planning and the use of public space. Within these themes of control and power, there are two different elements that fascinate me. On the one hand, my work deals with the ways in which control is exerted within public space. When does architecture constitute an expression of power? How do urban planning and architecture determine our movements? On the other hand, my work aims to discuss “control” in a political sense. What is the position of the individual within a predetermined system? I am interested in finding poetic translations for these power structures and technological developments.” —Esther Hovers
In keeping with Esther Hovers’ interests in methods of control within public spaces, her series False Positives (2015) looks to cutting-edge intelligent surveillance systems and their algorithms. Claiming to detect possible deviant activity within public spaces, these systems incorporate software scans for variations of human behaviour pointing to eight specific anomalies, as indicated to the Netherlands-based artist by several intelligent surveillance experts with whom she collaborated for the project. These anomalies involve irregular movement and body language that might indicate criminal intent. They include: standing still; fast movements; lonely objects; placement on a corner; clusters breaking apart; synchronized movements; repeatedly looking back; and deviant directions.
False Positives features graphic cityscapes created by Hovers through digital collage, using photographs made in Brussels’ business district, with figures captured in compositions where these anomalies are visible. The perspective in each photograph references the high vantage points of the surveillance or CCTV cameras that are increasingly ubiquitous within many modernized cities. Positioned on Harbourfront Centre’s parking pavilion as large-format images,—activating the structure leading to underground lots—their settings revolve around concrete buildings and paved open platforms that echo the waterfront’s existing built environment. The pedestrians scattered throughout Hovers’ scenes are often seen engaging in seemingly everyday movements that the camera freezes for inspection.
This installation illuminates a similar territory of issues surrounding a future-concept neighbourhood on the waterfront known as Quayside, which is currently being developed through Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs. With plans to install sensors that will measure everything from traffic flow to building occupancy, and to provide a host of automated civic services, Sidewalk Labs aims to transform this area into one of the world’s most innovative urban communities. This redevelopment model has sparked conversations regarding the positive and negative side effects of smart-city technology. Placed within this context, Hovers’ public installation offers a space for viewers to consider the implications of the transition toward a highly tracked and surveilled space, where the line between personal and private is blurred, and issues surrounding freedom of expression and normative behaviour come into play.